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New Mentoring Program Kicks Off in Pensacola

Laura Bogan, City of Pensacola

“BIGS with Badges” has landed in Pensacola – it’s part of a nationwide partnership between Big Brothers-Big Sisters and first responders.

The idea is to recruit first responders as mentors, which supporters contend will pay off for the kids, the mentors, and the community as a whole. Participating agencies include the Pensacola Police and Fire Departments, and the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office.

“We know how incredibly important it is for our youth today and tomorrow, and our leaders for tomorrow, to have strong influences in their life,” said Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward, who kicked off the announcement in City Council chambers.

It’s the brainchild of Paula Shell, the CEO of Big Brothers-Big Sisters of Northwest Florida – which provides one-to-one relationships with children ages six to 18, including 650 kids served in 2016. Shell says relationships are strained between police and communities nationwide.

“The fractures have impacted so many, and the associated challenges can leave us feeling that the solutions are beyond our control,” said Shell. “One-to-one interactions could make a difference.”

Part of the mission of Big Brothers-Big Sisters is providing the guidance kids need as they grow into adults and prepare for the related challenges.

“All of us in this room today – we had mentors,” said the Mayor. “To teach us those great lessons in life about succeeding, about giving back, about building character.”

On the character issue, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan quoted the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus.

“One of Heraclitus’ most memorable statements was: ‘A man’s character determines his destiny,’” said Morgan. “Those of us who are first responders, we live character. And so for us to have an opportunity to impart that very character and those characteristics to young men and women in our community, will truly speak to who we are, and who we want to become.”

Pensacola Police Chief David Alexander has been, and continues to be, a big brother himself. And as a youth, he had a Big Brother.

“A retired [police] sergeant, James Hallman, was instrumental in influencing me to pursue a career at the Pensacola Police Department,” said Alexander. “I’m looking forward to more mentors to come out of the Pensacola Police Department.”

A Big Brothers-Big Sisters program has been in place at the Pensacola Fire Department for some time now, but it’s among individual firefighters. Chief David Allen welcomes the expansion.

“The individuals in the fire department have gone on their own and done that on their time,” said Allen. “For us to be able as an organization to do that, and be supported by our mayor, is really just an exciting thing.”

Besides cops and firemen, emergency medical technicians, corrections officers, and state and federal agencies will take part in the BIGS with Badges partnership.